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Presentations Re-Imagined: Answering the Learning Circuits Big Question October 25, 2009

Posted by cjescribano in Presentations.


This month’s Learning Circuit’s Big Question asks us to consider: What should we do as presenters in this multi-tasking world?

If multi-tasking during presentations is becoming more and more the norm, then the onus is on us as presenters to find out more about our audiences and how and why they might be multi-tasking. Then we need to acknowledge the reality of multi-tasking and figure out ways to make it part of the learning.

Why do people multi-task?

  • They’re distracted by other obligations.
    They really want to be at this conference. They really want to hear what you have to say, but there’s something big cooking back at the office and they need to keep an eye on it.

    Well, you can’t blame them for that. We’ve all been there. I suppose you could remind them that your presentation is only for 60 minutes and that they can check back in with the office as soon as it’s over. Perhaps you could even provide some “Check-in Oases” during your presentation where you give participants permission to quickly check e-mail or otherwise multi-task while everyone else does an activity that is so fun and engaging that no one actually ends up using the “Check-in Oases.” At least by identifying the best times for multi-tasking, you can somewhat ensure that everyone is paying full attention to the most important parts of your presentation.

  • They’re bored.

    If you find that everyone is checking out of your presentation to check e-mail or surf the Web, then maybe it’s time to revamp your presentation. How can you better engage your audience? Perhaps add more frequent interactions where they have to do something—respond to a question, talk to their neighbors, participate in a small-group activity. Tell stories so well that they stop their multi-tasking right in their tracks to hear what’s going to happen next. Give them a job to do in the presentation. Change the whole broadcast paradigm of presentations to one in which everyone has a role (see Integrating multi-tasking into your presentation below for more ideas about that).

  • They’re sharing your presentation with their network.

    Well, this is a good thing, so you probably want to encourage it. After all, it extends your presentation beyond the walls of the conference room and makes it available to anyone interested for all eternity.

  • They feel they learn better when they’re flitting between several activities.
    Even though research shows that people do not learn as well when they are multi-tasking, people still do it, and some people swear by it. They feel like they’re getting more done, faster.

    The same strategies used for the bored people could be used here: more frequent interactions, engaging stories, or giving them a job to do.

Integrating multi-tasking into your presentation

So, here’s one idea for integrating multi-tasking into presentations:
Tell participants upfront that your presentation is a little different from what they may be used to. It’s not just you talking to them; it’s a total participatory event in which everyone plays a role. Then present the roles and ask them to identify what role they’d like to play:

  • Listeners—Explain that while you’re fine with people typing, tweeting, and texting during your presentation, you really need a few people who are willing just to listen and give you non-verbal feedback.
  • Sharers—These are the bloggers and tweeters who are broadcasting your message to their networks and the world.
  • Note-Takers—People who need to take notes when they listen. Ask them to take good notes for the group and post them to an online site after the presentation.
  • Questioners—These are the people asking questions to help make sure that what you’re saying is really relevant to the audience.
  • Activity Leaders—These are the people who are willing to take charge during small-group activities—ask the questions, get people responding, take the notes, report back, etc.
  • Distracted People—Acknowledge that some people may be distracted by their jobs or something happening in their personal lives. Tell them you’ll give them opportunities to check out during the presentation. 

You could ask for a show of hands for each role. Or you could set aside parts of the room for each role and have people select their role as they come in and sit down. For example, the Listeners might sit at the very front of the room so you can see them better.

Another Question to Consider:

In his original post on Narrowing the Gap Between Face-to-Face and Online Presentations, Tony mentioned that having WiFi at a conference has become a must-have. Will that soon be true for any classroom experience?


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